2003-2004: Gay Marriage in Massachusetts and San Francisco

2003 and 2004 are two important years in the history of same sex marriages. The courts in Massachusetts and California passed landmark rulings on same sex marriages. Here’s a summary of the rulings. The laws are constantly changing. Please check with your state laws.

Massachusetts Case – Goodridge v. Department of Public Health

The Massachusetts Supreme Court on November 18, 2003 held that the state cannot deny civil marriages to two individuals of the same sex who wanted to get married. The court however stayed the ruling for 180 days to enable the government to deal with the issue. The government proposed changes to the law to ban same sex marriages but decided to allow civil unions. This would permit same sex couples to remain in an association that is equivalent to marriage. The Supreme Judicial Court in its advisory opinion in February 2004 held that the proposed changes to the law are unconstitutional. This advisory opinion allowed towns and cities in the state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. The first such license was issued in May 2004.

San Francisco

While Massachusetts was debating over the ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, in San Francisco, the issue of same sex marriages was heating up. In February 2004, the Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom ordered the county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. This led to many same sex couples from across the nation flocking to San Francisco to get married. On March 11, 2004, the Supreme Court of California issued a temporary stay on the issue of marriage licenses to same sex couples. In the few days that the City of San Francisco issued marriage licenses to same sex couples, more than 4000 same sex couples got married in the city.

The California legislature passed a bill permitting same sex marriages in September 2005 but the bill was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Supreme Court of California on May 15, 2008 held that marriage is a fundamental right and struck down laws that prohibited same sex marriages.

In November 2008, Prop 8 was passed declaring same sex marriages illegal in California. In August 2010, a federal court held that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.

The 9th Circuit Court in February 2012 held that same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. An appeal against this decision is pending in the United States Supreme Court.

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